Saturday, December 23, 2017

What is socialism?

Although I am speaking generally, what follows is, and can be, only my opinion. There is no ISO committee for the definition of socialism. No matter what anyone says about socialism, a thousand other socialists will agree, and a thousand vehemently disagree.

Socialism is, first and foremost, about the working class taking and exercising political power.

Capitalism is about the capitalist class taking and exercising political power. Because the capitalist class is limited, it is, depending on how one feels about capitalists, an aristocracy or an oligarchy. How capitalism actually works is a complicated and subtle topic; its fundamental goal, however, seems clear: all power to the owners!

Economics is political: the development of capitalism opened up a new sphere of political power: the firm or factory and the manufacture of goods. Before capitalism, the land and agricultural production was the sphere of political power. Thus, socialists attend not only to the "ordinary" political sphere of individuals interacting with each other, but also to the political economy, the organization of firms and workplaces. Socialists hold that while the former is important, the latter is more important.

The parallel is not exact, but by and large capitalist firms are organized in the mode of feudal authoritarianism. There are greater and lesser individuals (CEOs) each atop a hierarchy of authority. Those below must comply absolutely* with the authority of those above; if they fail to comply, they will be punished (sacked). These feudal fiefdoms compete with one another, not on the battlefield but in the "market". For many decades, the parallel between feudalism and capitalism was even closer: firms used considerable coercion to prevent workers from leaving, rendering them the moral equivalent of serfs. The key comparison is that under feudalism, individuals owned political power; under capitalism, individuals own economic power.

*A subordinate may legitimately disagree with a superior only with the superior's permission.

There are a lot of differences between capitalism and feudalism, and no one should try to understand how capitalism works by studying feudalism. I introduce the comparison only to note that socialism rejects any form of individual power: under socialism, no individual has power; only the working class as a class has power. Socialism does not distinguish between state power (the power to directly arrest, imprison, or execute individuals) and economic power (the power to withdraw social permission to obtain the material necessities of life). Economic power rests on police power anyway: If I lose my job, have no money, and try to take the food I need to live, I will experience the pointy end of police power.

Socialism has two final goals: for workers to control firms and for workers to control the state. The workers in a firm will have democratic power over each other, and the workers in a country will have democratic power over each other, but no individual or select group will have state or economic power over other individuals.

A lot of people ask, how would this actually work? While I have some advice, the fundamental answer is that the working class must first take power; then it is they, not I, who must build socialist institutions.

What about non-workers? There are only five fundamental economic classes: owners, workers, administrators, students, and the non-productive (young children, retirees, and disabled people). Socialism proposes to eliminate only the owning class. Administrators (the civil service, the police, the army, etc.) must be politically subordinate to the working class; the rest, well, the workers will have to figure out the role of students and non-productive people; regardless of what they decide, they would have to work hard to do worse than the capitalist class.

That's really it. What the workers do with their power is up to them, not to me. As a socialist I just want to help them take power.

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